How To Pack For A Snow Leopard Trip
All the info you need to pack. On this snow leopard tour packing list we’ll tell you the must-haves, the should-haves, and what you can leave at home.
Are you getting set for a dream snow leopard trip? Snow leopards live in rugged terrain in some of the highest mountain ranges on earth. Our helpful guide will give you our top recommendations for packing for these incredible trips. Our teams spend up to four months, during peak winter, in the field each year and our rangers spend pretty much all year in snow leopard habitat. We know exactly what works and what doesn’t.
This snow leopard tour packing list will help you choose the right type of gear for your expedition, including:
- Footwear. Insulated is best.
- Warm underwear.
- Optics and accessories.
This packing list holds true for the majority of winter snow leopard expeditions in the Trans Himalayas of India, the Pamirs of Tajikistan, the Altai in Mongolia and the Tian Shan in Kyrgyzstan. We do not include equipment such as sleeping bags, tents, or other camp equipment in this packing list as in Ladakh our camp is centrally heated, has fine linens, and has all sorts of comforts. Across Central Asia Voygr provides all necessary equipment to our guests. We feel it’s the tour operators responsibility to procure the very best equipment for guests to use.
If you have questions on what to pack, just send our team a message and we’ll be happy to walk you through it.
A note: We do not earn commissions, affiliate payments, or any other type of payment for the brands we mention. Our recommendations are earned, not bought! We only recommend what our team has used. You may notice that the products mentioned below are primarily American. There are, of course, many other great products out there – you can use the ones listed below as a starting point for your quest to find the best available should you be searching for European or Asian equivalents. If you’d like our field teams to test any gear, we’d be happy to.
Prepare for the Cold: The Basics of Packing for a Snow Leopard Trip.
Regardless of which country and which mountain ranges you visit on your trip, you will always need to pack for the cold. Since snow leopards live at altitude, and the best season to see them in the wild is in winter. Snow leopard seekers can experience a range of temperatures in the same day. A burst of activity, such as a quick walk uphill when a snow leopard is first spotted can have you peeling off your heavy down jacket. While hours of staying in the same spot while a mother and cubs take a nap in the sun can have you searching for more layers. And so layering is key to being well prepared.
Outer layers are important, but your inner layers, or base layers, and just as critical. So let’s start off with base layers on our snow leopard tour packing list.
We recommend bringing two sets of base layers or thermal underwear, which include both a top and a bottom. Most outdoor wear companies classify their base layers into lightweight, mid-weight, and heavy-weight categories. We recommend the heavy-weight or thermal weight ones. Patagonia makes excellent thermal weight base layers from with their proprietary Capilene® fabric. Other great options are using merino wool base layers made by Icebreaker. No snow leopard tour packing list is complete without base layers.
Guests on snow leopard expeditions do a decent bit of walking. Socks that keep you warm and comfortable are essential. We highly recommend thick merino wool socks for your packing list. Both Smartwool and Darn Tough make excellent socks. You’ll want to make sure that your socks fit really well with the insulated boots you’re bringing. You don’t want your socks to bunch up, or be too tight. We prefer tall socks, covering a lot of the shin for extra warmth. You want socks made for spending a lot of time in wintry conditions. Mountaineering and winter hunting socks are ideal.
A lot of guests change their socks in the evening after a day spent tracking snow leopards. This also allows your merino socks to dry out for the next day. We recommend this strategy to stay comfortable.
Shoes are an important part of any trip to the mountains. Keeping the cold weather in mind, we recommend that you bring an insulated pair of hiking boots for your main pair for use during the day. Insulation is important because once a snow leopard is found, guests spend several hours in one place observing the cats or waiting for them to move. Cats nap a lot during the day. This waiting time can make your feet cold since you’re somewhat inactive. Once your feet are cold, you start getting cold all over and that gets uncomfortable fast.
We recommend boots with at least 400 milligrams of insulation. A lot of our expedition leaders wear boots with a lot more insulation, up to 1600 grams. It’s important that your boot + warm sock combination fits well. Make sure you’ve worn your boots with your socks on a 2 or 3 hour walk at least once before you go on expedition. You don’t want to discover you have ill-fitting boots half way around the world.
We also recommend bringing a 2nd pair of shoes for wear in camp in the evenings. Many guests prefer to let their heavy day-use boots air out during the evening while they switch to a more comfortable pair of shoes or down booties while they are in camp.
Boots are a very personal thing – everyone’s feet are different and people tend to run hot or cold with their feet. So our recommendations might not be the best for your feet – but they are a good starting point for your search. In our experience, guests who have brought rubber insulated boots for use in the arctic have found them to be too warm on snow leopard expeditions. So we don’t recommend boots rated for the arctic or antarctic or use in heavy ice or snow – brands like Muck or Baffin. We want cold weather boots that are comfortable to walk in and stand around in for hours. Make sure to think your footwear choices through when putting together your own snow leopard tour packing list.
- Oboz Women’s Bridger 9″ Insulated Waterproof. 400gms of Thinsulate.
- Salomon Women’s Toundra Pro.
- Keen’s Men’s Revel IV High Polar Boot (Good for wider feet)
- Oboz Men’s Bridger 10″ Insulated Waterproof
Your local hunting store may also have some good options with greater than 400 grams of insulation.
We define mid-layers as what goes on above your base layer. This could be a thin Polartec® 3/4 zip, a flannel shirt, or a thin sweatshirt or a sweater. The world’s your oyster when it comes to these layers and you probably already own several of this type of layer. We recommend technical ones such as Patagonia’s R1 series (women/men) or Patagonia’s Better Sweater (women/men) as they add another great layer of insulation and if it gets too warm walking uphill, you can strip your outermost down layers and still stay comfortable.
Pants / Trousers
Good pants are essential. Most outdoor wear sellers have adventure pants that are for winter use. You want something with a relaxed fit that you can walk around all day in. We love partly wind-proof fleece lined pants. Some guests bring double layered snow pants with an water/wind proof outer layer. Remember to try your pants on with your base layers. You want everything to be nice and comfortable.
Heavy Outer Layer
This layer is just as important as your base layer on your snow leopard tour packing list. A heavy down parka is the ideal outer layer. Lots of insulation. Most of our expedition leaders have multiple down jackets they use. A lighter one for when you’re moving around and active and a heavier parka that can go over when you’re standing around waiting. Many of our guests coming from North America and Europe already own relatively appropriate layers. But here are our recommendations if you’re still using that ski jacket from the early 90’s as your parka.
- Patagonia Grade VII Down Parka. Very warm for low activity times.
- Marmot Mt. Tyndall Hoody. 800 Fill. Heavier.
- Berghaus Combust Reflect Long Down Insulated Jacket. Heavier.
- Patagonia’s Grade VIII Down Parka. Heavy jacket for low activity.
- Eddie Bauer Triple Therm Down Parka.
Luggage & Bags
Rugged duffel bags are our recommendation for expedition style travel. Depending on where you’re going, your luggage may be transported in the back of a pick-up, on a roof-rack, on a horse, or by porters. Suitcases are bulk and problematic for many of these options. A strong duffel bag is ideal. We’ve really put our North Face and Patagonia duffels through the ringer – they are worth the money. All companies below offer multiple sizes.
Carry-on and Day pack.
Our recommendations for a day pack, something you have on you at all times, are simple. It should be able to hold water bottles, a few layers, and whatever you tend to carry with you everywhere while traveling. Any adventure style pack between 30 and 50 liters is good enough for most people.
If you’re a photographer, an adventure style camera pack such those made by LowePro, F-Stop, or others and generally recommended. Sling and shoulder bags are not recommended. If you’re a photographer with a huge lens, like a 500mm, 600mm, or 800mm, + tripod your pack is probably going to be entirely consumed by your lens. In this case, we highly recommend hiring a porter to carry your camera bag and carrying a day pack yourself. You’ll be glad to not be carrying a heavy load at altitude, and some of our porters are trained to set up and deploy your kit while you catch up to them. Depending on your expedition, a porter may be replaced by an extra horse in Central Asia.
All of these are offered in multiple sizes and wheeled and non-wheeled versions.
Most of the time the, large size is equivalent to usual check-in size.
Hats & Caps
Most guests switch between baseball style caps or sun hats and warm beanies, watch caps, or bomber style hats, depending on whether they are being active or inactive. A warm head helps you stay comfortable when outside for extended periods. Bring something that covers your ears and keeps them out of the wind. Several companies also make down hats.
The sun is strong at high altitudes, so keeping it out of your eyes is important.
Sunglasses that protect you from UV are highly recommended, especially at high elevations. Guests with prescriptions often wear contact lenses during the day with sunglasses. Others bring along prescription sunglasses. Do whatever suits your comfort, but ensure that you’re bringing some form of protection for your eyes.
Scarves & Balaclavas
Many guests prefer to have a scarf around their neck. Many also bring balaclavas/ski masks that they can wear when they are sitting around waiting for a snow leopard to stop napping and start moving.
Other Accessories, Tools, etc.
- Water bottle . We recommend a bottle that you can carry easily.
- Personal first aid/medical kit. While all our expedition leaders have heavy duty first aid kits, it’s always good to bring a little one of your own as part of your toiletries, Remember to bring any medication you regularly take. If you’re bringing prescription meds, it’s good to also have a printed copy of your prescription, especially if you take any meds that are considered “controlled substances.”
- Sunscreen . We recommend 50+ SPF for the high altitude sun.
- Head torch/ head lamp and some extra batteries.
- Gaiters . May or may not be necessary depending on snow conditions. Expeditions in 2016, 2017, and 2018 were relatively snow free. 2019, however, saw 2 feet of snow. 2020 had snow but not enough for gaiters.
- Trekking poles – highly recommended! Almost everyone ends up using theirs if they brought them or regretting that they didn’t bring them.
- Binoculars/ Spotting Scope. We have a limited supply and usually provide 2 or 3 per group. We recommend the Swarovski line of BTX spotting scopes.
Signature Snow Leopard
Expedition To Ladakh
Starting from $5,752.
Private tours available.
Snow Leopard Expedition To Kyrgyzstan
Starting from $6,880.
Private tours available.
Why Book With Voygr?
Read more about Voygr Expeditions to learn about our ethics, how giving back to the communities we travel to is part of our DNA, and what steps we take to actively preserve our planet.